Karela Fry

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The last forty years saw the cryptic growth of crony capitalism. The current global economic crisis has torn the curtains down, and caused a host of protests across the world: from the Anna campaign in India to the repeated street riots in Greece to the Occupy Wall Street protests in the US. Here is a philosopher’s take on it, as reported by the Spiegel:

Jürgen Habermas is angry. He’s really angry. He is nothing short of furious — because he takes it all personally. .. “I condemn the political parties. Our politicians have long been incapable of aspiring to anything whatsoever other than being re-elected. They have no political substance whatsoever, no convictions.”

Habermas wants to get his message out. That’s why he’s sitting here. That’s why he recently wrote an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, in which he accused EU politicians of cynicism and “turning their backs on the European ideals.” That’s why he has just written a book — a “booklet,” as he calls it — which the respected German weekly Die Zeit promptly compared with Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch.”

“Zur Verfassung Europas” (“On Europe’s Constitution”) is the name of his new book, which is basically a long essay in which he describes how the essence of our democracy has changed under the pressure of the crisis and the frenzy of the markets. Habermas says that power has slipped from the hands of the people and shifted to bodies of questionable democratic legitimacy, such as the European Council. Basically, he suggests, the technocrats have long since staged a quiet coup d’état.

“On July 22, 2011, (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel and (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to a vague compromise — which is certainly open to interpretation — between German economic liberalism and French etatism,” he writes. “All signs indicate that they would both like to transform the executive federalism enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty into an intergovernmental supremacy of the European Council that runs contrary to the spirit of the agreement.”

Habermas refers to the system that Merkel and Sarkozy have established during the crisis as a “post-democracy.” The European Parliament barely has any influence. The European Commission has “an odd, suspended position,” without really being responsible for what it does. Most importantly, however, he points to the European Council, which was given a central role in the Lisbon Treaty — one that Habermas views as an “anomaly.” He sees the Council as a “governmental body that engages in politics without being authorized to do so.”

He sees a Europe in which states are driven by the markets, in which the EU exerts massive influence on the formation of new governments in Italy and Greece, and in which what he so passionately defends and loves about Europe has been simply turned on its head.

There are political resonances across the world.

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